Madre follows the story of Diana, a pregnant wife and mother a severely autistic boy. After a chance encounter Diana hires Luz, a gifted Filipino caretaker to help her with her son. Martin begins to adapt quickly under the supervision of Luz. and Diana begins to suspect that Luz is using the language barrier to turn Martin against her and into something much more sinister.
Diana (Daniela Ramírez) is four months pregnant. This wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary but she is also the caretaker of her severely autistic 10 year old son, Martin (Matías Bassi) who has a habit of resisting feedings, bathings, diaper changes, and who likes to throw violent fits in public. After yet another violent outburst in public, an older Filipino woman named Luz (Aida Jabolin) rushes to Dianes aid in calming Martin. In seconds Martin is calmed and submissive. After a quick call to her husband Tomás (Cristobal Tapia Montt) who is traveling on business, the couple decides to hire Luz as a live in nanny.
Things start off wonderfully. Diane’s husband returns from his business travels and the two have their first chance in years to relax, sipping coffee in bed. The couple wander downstairs and find their son sitting at the dining table, quietly coloring while Luz tends to the now spotless kitchen. The two believe that Luz is the answer to their prayers.
Tomás heads out on another trip and believes that his wife, son, and unborn child are in good hands. That’s when things get weird. You see, Luz only communicates with her charge, Martin, in her native Filipino. This leaves Spanish-speaking Diana in the dark, questioning what the nanny is saying to her son to get him to behave so. At first the strange inconsistencies and odd behaviors are ignored as the house has never been at such peace and calm.
Diane begins to grow suspicious after using a smartphone app to eavesdrop and translate what is being said. More troubling is the graphic picture that Martin has sketched out in crayon, depicting the family dog, disemboweled atop a candlelit altar. As the warning signs continue to pop up, Diane’s husband continues to travel for work and grows increasingly tired of Diane’s paranoid accusations that something sinister is happening.
Writer, director Aaron Burns strings his audience along with just enough plausible doubt to make us question what we are seeing. Lingering suspicions give way to guilt as reasonable explanations are given, then a darker truth is revealed, over and over. Diana’s descent into panic and paranoia is believable because you are doubting your own perceptions of what you are seeing unfold.
The performances here are all solid too with Ramírez as the increasingly agitated mother as a standout. Her performance carries the film. Another wonderful job is done by Jabolin as Luz. Deadpan and soft spoken, Luz is the quiet, possibly conspiring threat that looms around every corner.
Pregnancy hasn’t been this disturbing since Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury‘s Inside. Yet Madre plays it more restrained here with hints of Rosemary’s Baby. We begin to question the sanity of our protaganist on account of her delicate state so to speak and question if what we are seeing is real or imagined.
If you are at SXSW you need to catch the last screening of Madre tonight at the ZACH Theater, 9pm. It is a nail-biting piece of suspense world cinema that reminds us that fear is universal and paranoia and the loss of belonging is something everyone can identify with. This Madre is a bad mofo.
Saturday, March 11th at 7:00PM | Alamo Lamar D – World Premiere
Tuesday, March 14th at 1:30PM | Alamo Lamar B – Public Screening
Wednesday, March 15th at 9:00PM | Alamo Lamar D – Public Screening
Friday, March 17th at 9:00PM | ZACH Theater – Public Screening